Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) exists indefinitely in infected individuals by a yet poorly characterized latent infection in hematopoietic cells. We previously demonstrated a requirement for the putative UL138 open reading frame (ORF) in promoting a latent infection in CD34+ hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) infected in vitro. In our present study, we have identified two coterminal transcripts of 2.7 and 3.6 kb and a 21-kilodalton (kDa) protein (pUL138) that are derived from the UL138 locus with early-late gene kinetics during productive infection. The UL138 transcripts and protein are detected in both fibroblasts and HPCs. A recombinant virus, FIX-UL138 STOP, that synthesizes the UL138 transcripts but not the protein exhibited a partial loss-of-latency phenotype in HPCs, similar to the phenotype observed for the UL138-null recombinant virus. This finding suggests that the UL138 protein is required for latency, but it does not exclude the possibility that the UL138 transcripts or other ORFs also contribute to latency. The mechanisms by which pUL138 contributes to latency remain unknown. While the 86- and 72-kDa immediate-early proteins were not detected in HPCs infected with HCMV in vitro, pUL138 did not function directly to suppress expression from the major immediate-early promoter in reporter assays. Interestingly, pUL138 localizes to the Golgi apparatus in infected cells but is not incorporated into virus particles. The localization of pUL138 to the Golgi apparatus suggests that pUL138 contributes to HCMV latency by a novel mechanism. pUL138 is the first HCMV protein demonstrated to promote an infection with the hallmarks of latency in CD34+ HPCs.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science